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The Official 2012 Atlanta Braves Spring Training Thread

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Gilmartin excited for first Spring Training

By Mark Bowman / MLB.com | 02/20/12 2:34 PM EST

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- As Sean Gilmartin drove toward the Braves' Spring Training complex Sunday, he thought about the fact that he had been preparing to face Virginia Military Institute around this same time last year.

Now he found himself preparing to rub elbows with Chipper Jones and soak in the thrill of his first big league Spring Training.

"I don't know what to expect, but I guess it will all work itself out," Gilmartin said. "It will be fun."

After the Braves selected Gilmartin with the 28th overall selection in last year's First-Year Player Draft, the 21-year-old left-hander made his first five professional starts over the summer and then pitched in the Arizona Fall League.

Gilmartin recorded 30 strikeouts and issued two walks in 21 1/3 innings for the Class A Rome Braves. He surrendered three home runs during that short span and five more in 29 innings in the AFL.

Hanson in accident, checked for concussion

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Tommy Hanson was treated for a potential concussion after being involved in a one-car accident while traveling to the Braves' Spring Training complex early Monday morning.

Hanson informed the Braves that he blew a tire and might have hit his head when his car went off the road a little after 7 a.m. ET. The 25-year-old pitcher arrived at ESPN's Wide World of Sports complex a short time later and began preparing for the first workout of the year for Atlanta's pitchers and catchers.

After sitting through manager Fredi Gonzalez's meeting at 9:30 a.m., Hanson informed members of the medical staff that he was not feeling right. Braves trainer Jeff Porter sent the right-handed pitcher to an area doctor to determine whether he suffered a concussion.

"We've just got to do some preliminary checks on him," Gonzalez said. "I don't see anything that is going to be glaring. He bumped his head. He doesn't know whether it was on the glass or the steering wheel or something."

The Braves had not received any updates as of early Monday afternoon. Hanson did not have any noticeable bruises or scrapes.

"From what I understand, there was no police report or anything," Gonzalez said. "He just came around the corner a little bit too hot."

Gonzalez said he thought Hanson could participate in Tuesday's workout if he did not suffer a concussion.<a name="26764630">

Prado understanding of winter trade rumors

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Martin Prado has prepared himself for the likelihood that he will not spend his entire professional career with the Braves. But he admits he still felt some concern as he went through the winter knowing his name was linked to many trade rumors.

"I was shocked, but I knew it was going to happen, at least the rumors," Prado said. "This is a business and I love the Braves. They are the team that gave me an opportunity. But I knew at some point of my career this was going to happen. I'm not thinking about that. This is something I can't control.

Whatever their decision was, I was going to respect that."

Braves general manager Frank Wren said throughout the offseason that he would not make a trade unless it was one that would substantially improve his club. As the winter progressed, it became more apparent that teams were not as willing to provide as much for Prado as they might have before he struggled through last year's frustrating summer.

One year after earning his first All-Star selection, Prado spent this past season producing career lows in batting average (.260), on-base percentage (.302) and slugging percentage (.385). His struggles were enhanced in June when he developed a staph infection that sidelined him for a little more than a month.

Prado spent this offseason attempting to regain all his strength while doing some performance training with Tom Shaw, who has worked with Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning and a number of other notable athletes.

"When the season starts, I'm going to be ready to go," Prado said. "Hopefully when the season starts, I can stay healthy the whole year. That's something I've never done before. That's my principal goal right now."

Worth noting

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez addressed pitchers and catchers before Monday's workout. He drew some raised eyebrows and laughs when he told the players that if they wanted to listen to music in the clubhouse they would have to use a personal device like a walkman. ... Gonzalez once again said that Kris Medlen will work like a starting pitcher during Spring Training to prepare for the possibility that he could begin the season in the rotation. Right now, it appears he is targeted to begin the year as a reliever.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Braves won't dwell on how last year ended

Club excited about chances to challenge for 2012 title

By Mark Bowman / MLB.com | 02/20/12 5:04 PM EST

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- As Braves players evaluated last year's late-season collapse, they were not distracted by a controversy involving beer and fried chicken. They were simply bewildered by the fact that they had gone from one of the game's most successful teams to one of its worst as soon as the calendar turned from August to September.

"It was hard to watch," Braves reliever Peter Moylan said.

The story has been rehashed countless times over the past six months. The Braves entered September with an 8 1/2-game Wild Card lead over the Cardinals. They were seemingly destined for the postseason.

Two months later, as they watched the Cardinals complete an incredible run with a World Series title, Braves players were left to wonder if they had simply been a team that had gotten in destiny's way.

"The way I rationalize things, really it was their destiny to win [the World Series]," Braves catcher David Ross said. "[Tony] La Russa retiring, [Albert] Pujols moving on. I felt like [World Series] Game 6, they were just meant to win. I think about a bigger plan. Somebody else is running things. The man upstairs has a lot to do with it. I was just like, man they were destined to win this."

As the baseball world watched in disbelief as the Cardinals miraculously erased a pair of two-run, two-out deficits in the ninth inning or later of Game 6, some Braves players had more reason to wonder if the baseball gods had played a part in the fact that they had won just seven of their final 23 games and completely squandered their playoff hopes.

Suspicions grew deeper when La Russa retired from his legendary managerial career just three days after leading the Cardinals to an improbable World Series title.

"It was meant to be for the Cardinals. There is not another explanation for what happened to them," Braves left fielder Martin Prado said.

As they prepare for a new season four months later, the Braves no longer have time to wonder whether they were indeed victimized by destiny. Instead, they can only hope that last year's collapse serves more as a motivator than a burden as they attempt to move forward.

"We've just got to keep going forward with it," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "If you keep going to it, you're never going to be able to go forward. It's there and it's going to be there for the rest of our lives. It's black and white in the history books, and you can't take that back. But that being said, we have to go forward."

Many of the Braves seem to differ with their opinion of the best way to move past what happened last year after they had produced the game's fourth-best winning percentage through the season's first 132 games. They would win just 10 of the final 30 games and see their season officially end with a 13-inning loss to the Phillies in the regular-season finale.

"I think that sense of disappointment these young kids felt last year is something they need to remember," Braves veteran pitcher Tim Hudson said. "Even though it was very disappointing and obviously not how we wanted to end, it was a good learning experience for them."

Prado is among those who believe it would be best to at least attempt to completely forget about what transpired.

"I don't think it's a good thing to keep it in the back of your head," Prado said. "I believe the good human beings and good players forget about bad things and learn from it. I think pretty much everybody in here learned from it. If we're in the same spot or situation, I bet it's going to be a different story."

The Braves might have been fortunate that this collapse was experienced by a pretty tight-knit group that has returned this year looking to make amends. Gonzalez was impressed yet again Monday when Chipper Jones, Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Eric Hinske and Prado were among the position players who chose to spend their morning working out at the stadium.

Position players are not required to report until Friday. Shortstop Tyler Pastornicky and center fielder Michael Bourn are the only projected starting position players who have not yet been seen in camp.

"I'm glad there wasn't many moves made in the offseason," Ross said. "Everybody knows everybody in here. Everybody likes everybody in here. I think we're excited. I think it's more of a challenge now that we know how good our division has gotten. I think it pushes you even harder."

As the Marlins and Nationals drew attention with some significant acquisitions that could make the National League East even more interesting, the Braves did not flinch. There were thoughts about trading Jair Jurrjens or Prado.

But in the end, Braves general manager Frank Wren was not swayed to do something significant in reaction to September's collapse. Instead, he opted to stick with virtually the same group that had exited August as one of the game's top teams.

"A lot of people are talking about how there were not many moves made," Hudson said. "I don't think there needed to be any moves. I think the best moves were the two that weren't made. I felt like we had a World Series-caliber team last year, and I feel like we do again. We just had a bad month at a bad time of the year."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Tommy Hanson has mild concussion

Associated Press

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Atlanta Braves pitcher Tommy Hanson has been diagnosed with a mild concussion after wrecking on his way to spring training.

Manager Fredi Gonzalez said Tuesday that Hanson will miss the first two days of spring training, then gradually work his way back into a normal routine. If there are no setbacks, he should be back at full strength within a week.

Hanson blew out a tire Monday near the Braves' Disney World complex and may have bumped his head on either the windshield or the steering wheel. The right-hander was diagnosed with a Grade 1 concussion but apparently has no other injuries.

Hanson is expected to be one of the team's top starters in 2012. He was 11-7 with a 3.60 ERA last season despite a shoulder injury.

Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press

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Braves stay virtually intact from year ago

Despite epic collapse last September, Atlanta decided to not make any big changes

By Jayson Stark

ESPN.com

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- They are two teams that wear the same scars, feel the same pain, share nearly identical places in dubious baseball history.

You will find them on the same page in your Greatest Collapses in History record books. But that's where the similarities between the 2011-12 Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves diverge. Has anybody else noticed that?

In Boston, blood flowed. Fingers were pointed. Heroes turned to villains overnight. The manager: Gone. The general manager: Gone. The beer-and-fried-chicken crowd: Embarrassed. You know their story. No need to dredge it up again.

But meanwhile, in the home of the Braves, we have seen a very different take on an otherwise-identical tale. The manager: Still working. The general manager: Still leaning against the batting cage this spring. The roster: Virtually intact.

It's like watching one of those cool, art-house movies at Sundance. The same plot line begins to unfold on both halves of a split screen. Then one half veers into horror-flick mode, while the other tracks the path of "normal" people who decide the best way to cope with a crisis is to do their best to act like it's just part of life. …

Maybe because it is.

"I had the privilege of listening to the great Georgia football coach, Vince Dooley, at a fund-raiser this winter," said Braves manager Fredi

Gonzalez. "Later, he took me aside, and he said: 'If you're in this game long enough, or any sport long enough, stuff like this is going to happen. It's how you guys come out on the other end that counts.'"

So unlike what has gone down in other towns and other franchises, the Braves have taken a path this winter that you don't often see in our modern, talk-showed-up, sporting cosmos. We could sum it up like this:

Life happens. Deal with it.

So why didn't they fire anybody? Why didn't they sign any gazillion-dollar free agents? Why didn't they trade any studs from their pitching-rich farm system for a big outfield bat? It isn't that complicated.

"We just felt," said their GM, Frank Wren, "that this group needed another chance."

When they look at "this group," they try to look past the team that went 8-18 after Sept. 1, the team that blew a 10½-game lead on the Cardinals with 30 games to play, the team that even managed to cough up a three-game lead with five to play.

What they see instead is a team that had the fourth-best record in the entire sport as late as the first week of September, a team that still believes it employs the best bullpen in baseball, a team with a ridiculous supply of live, big-league-ready arms, a team with untold offensive upside.

They see Jason Heyward this spring, in tremendous shape, his swing re-tooled after weeks of work with new hitting coach Greg Walker. They see Martin Prado this spring, back to good health, no longer slogged down by the after-effects of last year's staph infection.

They see Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson, throwing baseballs like they can again. They look forward to all the basepath havoc Michael Bourn can wreak over a full season. So they have chosen to dream about what this team CAN be, not re-live the train wreck that last September became.

By autumn, we'll know if their vision is right or wrong. But either way, the Braves are giving us a window into who and what they are.

Just as what happened in Boston this offseason was a reflection of the volatility of the Red Sox, what happened in Atlanta was a reflection of the stability the Braves have long been famous for.

"You've got a franchise here that's not going to buckle to pressure from the fan base or pressure from the media," said Chipper Jones, a man starting his 22nd spring training with this franchise. "I'm by no means comparing the two -- the fan base or the media, because I know it's multiplied by 50 up there. And I don't know what it's like up there on a daily basis. But I do appreciate that here, we don't go out and make a move just to make a move."

Oh, don't kid yourself. Had the right deal come along for the right bat, the Braves would have made it. They don't deny that. They made a run at Adam Jones, kicked the tires on Seth Smith, checked in on every other outfield thumper who was available or even potentially available. Never came close, Wren said.

"We took the approach that we were going to be open-minded," said the GM. "But we really never saw a move that we felt would make us better."

So that leaves the job of carrying on after The Nightmare to the same men who lived through it. That's an admirable show of faith in a talented group of people. But let's be honest. It's also a major gamble not to bring in ANY significant addition who could inject some sort of new energy, personality or skill set to this mix.

But if that's the road they chose, it's 100 percent cool with the survivors.

"I just don't think we needed to change anything," said catcher Brian McCann. "We just need to get it done. I feel like we have a really good team. So I'm glad nothing happened. It'll be great to play a full season with Michael Bourn. It'll be great to have a healthy Martin Prado and a healthy Jason Heyward. I'm very confident in our team. I honestly believe that last year will have no impact on this year's team at all."

That doesn't mean, though, that the scars don't still jab at all of them every once in a while.

Jones still shakes his head at the ground ball in Florida he lost in the lights with two outs in the ninth and says: "That was the first time I really sat back and said, 'Something's going on here -- some kind of divine snowball we can't stop from rolling downhill.'"

The manager still talks about how he spent the first two or three weeks of October "sitting there going, 'What if? What if?' And you know what? You drive yourself crazy if you sit back and try to analyze and dissect every pitch that happened. You can't bring it back."

The general manager still wonders what might have been had that hurricane not veered toward New York while the Braves were visiting in late August, forcing them to take a four-day break when they were playing as well as they played all year -- "and we never played the same afterward," Wren says.

And when McCann himself begins to reflect on how long it took him to get over what happened, he finally says: "I don't think you ever fully get over it."

Then again, how could you? How could anyone? The secret to surviving anything that traumatic, though, is not to pretend to forget it. It's to use the pain as fuel, to use the mistakes as teachable moments, to use those times of weakness as a reason to summon more strength.

That's not a baseball lesson, ladies and gentlemen. That's a life lesson.

"Here's a point I tried to bring up in the offseason," said Jones. "Maybe last year was a good thing, in that maybe it was good that some of these young guys can learn from that experience. If we learn from that, and come back and either make the playoffs or win the division or, a year or two down the road, win a World Series, then that collapse last year was a good thing, because then it taught us something. And we learned from it. And we got better because of it.

"Nobody wants to experience that. Nobody wants to go 10-20 in September. Nobody wants to give up a 10-game lead with five weeks to go. But if we spin it, and use it as a positive, and think about whatever silver linings there were, and we learn how to close seasons, and we learn how to close ball games, that's how we'll learn how to win championships."

The irony of that assessment is that, for most of last season, closing ball games was the thing the 2011 Braves did best. For five months, when they got a lead and handed the baseball to Eric O'Flaherty, Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel, hey, that was that. Thanks for coming. Drive home safely.

On the day they waved sayonara to August last year, O'Flaherty had a 1.21 ERA, Venters had a 1.31 ERA and Kimbrel was at 1.64. And no bullpen in history had ever had three relievers with ERAs that low. But then September arrived.

O'Flaherty was as good in that final month as ever (14 scoreless appearances). But Venters, who had been scored on in only six appearances all year, gave up runs in six of his 13 appearances just in September alone (for a 5.11 ERA).

And then there was Kimbrel. One minute, he hadn't allowed a run since June 11. The next, he was getting scored on in four of his last eight appearances and three of his last four, including a devastating blown save in the final game of his team's season.

So not surprisingly, the second-guessing began. Venters' 85 appearances were more than any pitcher in baseball. Kimbrel's 79 were more than any closer in baseball. Venters' 88 innings pitched tied for third-most in the big leagues. Kimbrel's 77 were the most of any closer in the big leagues.

It was impossible not to wonder if, in retrospect, they'd both been overworked -- and, in the end, all those trips to the mound had taken their toll. But it wasn't just people on the outside asking those questions. The manager admits that he and pitching coach Roger McDowell asked the same questions themselves.

"People sometimes think that we don't care or we don't see what's going on," Gonzalez said. "So when stuff like that gets written, you take it personally -- because believe me, there have been many times where Roger and I have talked about whether we were overusing Jonny or overusing O'Flaherty, or anybody for that matter. Believe me, you don't set out to say, 'I'm going to use Jonny 100 times this year just because I want to.'"

So Gonzalez and McDowell have studied what happened, too. And they can't get past the fact that they played 55 one-run games, tied with the Giants for the most by any NL team that finished with a winning record. They can't overlook the 26 extra-inning games, the most by any team since the 1992 Cardinals. They figured out that those games resulted in 54 additional innings pitched -- which comes to six full games worth of outs that all had to be recorded by the bullpen.

They've also seen it written that Venters and Kimbrel both made more appearances last year than Mariano Rivera or Trevor Hoffman ever made in any season in their careers. And that's true. But almost no one has mentioned that Rivera has blown by Kimbrel's innings total (77) four times, or that Hoffman beat that total three times.

So obviously, the manager wishes those games and innings hadn't piled up the way they did. But the way the season unfolded, he still feels as if circumstances forced his hand.

"In a perfect world, you want to do stuff perfect," Gonzalez said. "But every game counts in the major leagues. And they're hard to win."

They will head into this season with a more conservative game plan, in theory -- one that dictates they won't use O'Flaherty, Venters and Kimbrel unless they lead by three runs or fewer. But it's easy to say now, tougher to do in June and July.

Will the season unfold in a way that makes that possible? Nobody ever knows for certain in February. But when the Braves write that script for 2012 in their heads, they don't see tired bullpen arms or ground balls that get lost in the lights. They think about how sweet the champagne will taste if this is the year they write that happy ending.

"I can tell you this," said Chipper Jones. "What happened to us last year did not taste good. And nobody in here wants to experience that taste again."

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His latest book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is available in a new paperback edition, in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.

Follow Jayson Stark on Twitter @jaysonst.

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Frank Wren hit the nail on the head. That dam hurricane ruined the Braves season. The Braves were playing their best baseball of the season and McCann was starting to get back on track after the injury, had just had a 2-homerun game in Chicago. The Braves won 16 of 21 games leading up to that series in New York and had just mowed through the Giants and Diamondbacks at home. The absolutely man handled the Giants and Diamondbacks. The Braves pitched 3 shutouts in 5 games during a 6-game winning streak during that 16-5 run. The Braves had the 4th best record at the start of September. There was no reason for the Braves to blow up this team. I have nothing but the highest expectations for this team going into the season and any real Braves fan should feel the same way. I know people keep bringing up we don't have enough offense but for 5 months last year we did. Through August the Braves were 80-55 and were averaging 4.1 runs per game. There is no reason to think this team isn't capable of improving on that. With our pitching staff we don't have to score much more than that.

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Frank Wren hit the nail on the head. That dam hurricane ruined the Braves season. The Braves were playing their best baseball of the season and McCann was starting to get back on track after the injury, had just had a 2-homerun game in Chicago. The Braves won 16 of 21 games leading up to that series in New York and had just mowed through the Giants and Diamondbacks at home. The absolutely man handled the Giants and Diamondbacks. The Braves pitched 3 shutouts in 5 games during a 6-game winning streak during that 16-5 run. The Braves had the 4th best record at the start of September. There was no reason for the Braves to blow up this team. I have nothing but the highest expectations for this team going into the season and any real Braves fan should feel the same way.

I agree. It sounds like Heyward has turned it around. I don't expect Prado to dropoff like last season. I don't expect Uggla to bat .150 for half the season. You get Bourn for the entire season.

The bullpen gets stronger with Medlen back, Vizcaino with more experience, and then Minor/Delgado/Teheran will be better than Lowe.

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I agree. It sounds like Heyward has turned it around. I don't expect Prado to dropoff like last season. I don't expect Uggla to bat .150 for half the season. You get Bourn for the entire season.

The bullpen gets stronger with Medlen back, Vizcaino with more experience, and then Minor/Delgado/Teheran will be better than Lowe.

Yep. Can't wait for April 5 to get here when the games start counting again!

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I agree. It sounds like Heyward has turned it around. I don't expect Prado to dropoff like last season. I don't expect Uggla to bat .150 for half the season. You get Bourn for the entire season.

The bullpen gets stronger with Medlen back, Vizcaino with more experience, and then Minor/Delgado/Teheran will be better than Lowe.

I feel real good about this upcoming season. If we don't have a rash of injuries and we don't have key guys under perform, we have a pretty good team that is a WS candidate.

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From everything i've seen Walker seems to be doing a great job so far fixing what Parrish helped break

Yep. He seems to have really connected with the players especially Heyward. Parrish never connected with the players.

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Uggla: Increased biceps and comfort level

7:52 pm February 21, 2012, by David O'Brien

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Dan Uggla and his arms, bigger than ever, entered the Braves clubhouse Tuesday reporting early for duty.

Year 2 of the Uggs Era surely cannot be stranger than the first Braves season was for the second baseman with thigh-sized biceps. He’d prefer it be steadier, and things already feel more normal for him.

“It’s different already, a more comfortable feeling,” said Uggla, who said he no longer feels pressure to prove anything, not like last spring when he had received a five-year, $62 million contract extension before ever playing a game for the Braves.

“I already know where my place is on this team,” said Uggla, who had a career-low .233 average, but a career-high 36 homers and an Atlanta-record 33-game hitting streak. “I already know that everybody here respects me as a ballplayer, the way I go about my business. Now it’s not like trying to set the stage.”

His hitting streak that was the sixth-longest in the majors in the past three decades, and began July 5 after he hit a league-worst .173 in 86 games through Independence Day.

His average was so low when his streak began that it was still just .233 when it ended. No other player has had an average below .300 at the end of a streak as long as Uggla’s.

“He earned respect,” Braves backup catcher David Ross said. “You can’t talk about getting respect like that; you have to earn it. You go out there and you’re hitting a buck-90 or whatever he was hitting for that long, and you’re like, this guy’s in the 5-hole?

“But he always busted his tail down the line, and when he went through that hitting streak everybody was so happy for him. Those are the guys you want to be teammates with.”

As much as it pains him to say something that might be construed as excuse-making, he acknowledges pressing at the outset of the 2011 season, trying to show what he could do after being traded from the Marlins and given that large extension.

“Say what you want, when you come to a new team, whether you’ve got a big contract or not you’re going to want to impress,” he said. “You’re going to want to impress the front office, and even thought I played for Fredi [Gonzalez, Braves manager] for four years before that, I wanted to do good for him….

“This year, I just want to go out and play. I’m already a part of this team. I’m not just wearing the Braves logo. I’ve got a part in these guys’ lives.”

Gonzalez had previously managed Uggla with the Marlins.

“It’s human nature,” Gonzalez said. “You go to a new place and have a big contract, you want to do more than you’re capable of and impress. I think when he got settled in and comfortable with his surroundings, he was his normal self.”

After hitting .173 with a puny .241 on-base percentage and 11 homers in his first 86 games, Uggla hit .301 with a .386 OBP and 24 homers in his final 75 games.

During the hit streak he hit .377 with 15 homers and 32 RBIs, and the Braves went 19-14 in that span despite having most of their other top hitters in slumps.

“Once he started that hitting streak he was pretty consistent for us the rest of the way,” said Braves veteran Eric Hinske. “He still hit 36 home runs and drove in a lot of runs. The guy’s a pure power hitter and solid defensively.”

What impressed teammates more than anything was how Uggla handled the difficult stretch in the first half, when he faced constant questions about his anemic average.

Uggla was at his locker after every game to answer reporters questions, never getting terse or complaining. Teammates said he was upbeat ever day in the clubhouse, convinced he would get things turned around soon.

“It’s hard to be the same guy when you’re not doing well, and he never changed,” Hinske said.

Now Uggla is back, and the 6-foot fireplug added more muscle after a winter of heavy weightlifting with his brother at home in Franklin, Tenn. Most of the added bulk appears to be in his arms, which were already enormous.

“I just got as big and strong as I could,” he said. “I gained probably about 15 or 20 pounds, up to about 225. But I still feel athletic. I’ll probably trim it down to about 210, 215 this spring, but I really, really got after it. I didn’t take any weeks off, started working out as soon as I got home and kept it going until now. So I’m ready.”

After the Braves lost 20 of their last 30 games and blew an 8-1/2 game wild-card lead to miss the playoffs, Uggla was pleased to see so many position players report to camp early, including six of eight projected starters. Official full-squad reporting day is Friday.

“We’ve got a lot of guys with I think a chip on their shoulders this year,” he said. “Some things happened and they took it upon themselves this offseason to prepare themselves for the season. Not just for what happened in September but from an individual standpoint — they’re like, ‘I’m not going to let that happen again.’”

The only projected starters not in camp already are center fielder Michael Bourn and rookie shortstop Tyler Pastornicky, who is in California has previously planned to work out with veteran shortstop Jack Wilson, who has a full infield in his backyard.

Wilson will serve as a mentor to Pastornicky, and Uggla is eager to work with his new double-play partner when full-squad workouts begin Saturday. Gonzalez said he plans to have Uggla and Pastornicky always be in the lineup together in Grapefruit League games, so they’ll have a maximum amount of chances to get comfortable.

“He’s a great kid,” Uggla said. “I got to know him last year in spring. He works hard. He’s ready. Having a guy like Jack around is going to make him that much better. The only other guy who might be able to pick it a hair better than Jack is Gonzo [former Braves shortstop Alex Gonzalez, whom Pastornicky is to replace].

“I’m really glad that we signed Jack [to come] back. If we can’t have Gonzo, then Jack’s a good second choice.”

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On Prado’s return, Hudson’s toughness, early arrivers

2:24 am February 21, 2012, by David O'Brien

LAKE BUENA VISTA – First he had the worst season of his career. Then Martin Prado had an offseason that found him at the center of multiple trade rumors. Fun times.

But when he reported to spring training Monday, four days early for position players –- most other Braves lineup regulars arrived early, too —

Prado harbored no hard feelings and showed the same attitude that always earned respect from teammates.

He’s heard or read plenty of comments the past several months from people opining about what happened to him last season.

“There was a lot of talk about what I didn’t do, why I didn’t have success,” said Prado, who hit .260 with a paltry .302 on-base percentage and .385 slugging percentage in 129 games in 2011, and missed five weeks for a staph infection that required surgery.

It was a major dropoff from the previous two seasons, when batted a combined .307 with a .354 OBP and .461 slugging percentage. He made the National League All-Star team as a second baseman in 2010.

“I know in my heart I tried my best [last season],” he said. “It didn’t happen the way I wanted it to be, but that’s the past. I’ve got a present and

I’ve got a future. I’m looking for good things, good things for the team.”

I’ve got a present and I’ve got a future? Who talks like that? Prado does. God bless him.

Always a workout maven, Prado was determined this past winter to work out more intelligently, with an expert, in order to strengthen specific areas and try to avoid the kind of nagging injuries that have slowed him in the past, including groin injuries.

He spent much of the winter training at Braves spring training headquarters at Dark Star while living in a rental house in Orlando, where he is building a new home.

Prado worked out with Braves trainers, but and also did a lot of training with speed and strength coach Tom Shaw, who’s based out of ESPN’s Wide World of Sports, the massive sports complex where Braves headquarters are located, and he has a client roster that’s included dozens of NFL stars including Tom Brady and the Manning brothers.

Prado did a lot of drills designed to improve his explosiveness.

“After the season I just took a couple of weeks off, then got back at it,” he said. “I’ve got a challenge for this year, and that’s what I’m going to prepare for.”

He was asked about the staph infection and how much that played in his performance last year.

“I don’t want to make excuses,” he said. “It was hard for me because I was stuck for a month without doing any activity. But I don’t think that was completely [the problem].”

Indeed, he wasn’t up to his usual standards even before the staph infection. He hit .277 with a .324 OBP and 33 RBIs in 61 games before the staph, and .244 with a .283 OBP and 24 RBIs in 68 games after returning from the disabled list July 15.

Prado switched to a new position last spring after the Braves traded for second baseman Dan Uggla. He split time in 2010 between left field and third base, where he backs up Chipper Jones. He’ll have the same job description this season.

“After the season I just took a couple of weeks off, then got back at it,” Prado said. “I’ve got a challenge for this year, and that’s what I’m going to prepare for…. Now I have more of an idea what I need to do, because somedays you’re playing left field and some days third base. I guess just be ready mentally. That’s what I’m going to do.

He said the trade rumors didn’t bother him much, despite the fact that Prado is one of the most popular Braves in recent years and has developed a bond with his teammates and Atlanta fans.

“[Trade rumors] happen in every single sport,” he said. “I know what I can do, that part of my business I cannot control. I love this team. I’m so glad, so thankful for the opportunity that I’ve had from them. I love every single guy in this clubhouse and this team. I’m probably going to be a Brave, but things happen.”

Prado only went home to Venezuela for three weeks during the offseason. Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos was kidnapped in that country this winter, the latest in a series of celebrities or their families who’ve been kidnapped in Venezuela and held for ransom, including several relatives of major league players. Ramos was rescued two days later.

Prado’s mother still lives in Venezuela, along his sister and two brothers.

“Everybody knows [how bad the kidnapping problem is there],” Prado said. “I’ve been worried about that since four years ago. This is not something new that nobody knew. Everybody knows about it. But it’s not like I can say something in public, because it just makes it even worse.

“Everybody knows it but nobody does anything. So unfortunately you have to pay guards and other guys to protect your family. I don’t like it, but it’s what it is.”

Prado is building a home in the Dr. Phillips area of Orlando, not too far from Braves camp.

“I work out here, use the [batting] cages and all the facilities,” Prado said. “It’s a nice area, got everything around me. I don’t like it too busy; I’m not that kind of guy.”

♣ Early arrivers: I’ve never seen as many early reporting position players as there are at this year’s Braves camp. Among projected starting position players, only rookie shortstop Tyler Pastornicky and center fielder Michael Bourn hadn’t already reported by Monday, four days before non-catcher position players were due in.

Pastornicky is working out with backup shortstop Jack Wilson at Wilson’s house in California, where the Braves veteran has a full infield in his backyard. Bourn has been spotted working out with the University of Houston baseball team in his hometown.

“There’s a lot of guys here,” said backup catcher David Ross, who thinks there are a couple of reasons for the big turnout.

“Spring training is starting a little later, that has a lot to do with it,” he said. “I got the itch about a week ago. You usually start your workout stuff at a certain time; I always start hitting and throwing Jan. 1. And this year I even started a couple days earlier because I was bored.

“By the time I get around this time, I’m ready to go [to spring training]. You’re over working out, you want to get here and compete. A lot of guys are anxious to get back and get started.”

The way the Braves finished last season, losing 20 of 30 in an epic slide that cost them the wild-card playoff berth, many were eager to get back to camp and take the first steps toward getting rid of the bitter taste from last year’s finish.

“I think it’s a good thing,” manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “We’re ready to go. I think last year we had a good group, but I think this group … we’ve got everybody here, pretty much.”

Gonzalez was asked if he thought there’s be any lingering effect from the way last eason ended, any kind of hangover or negative effect on this year’s team.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “That’s one thing you feel good about, coming out of last year nobody pointed fingers at anybody and everybody took responsibility including myself. We go forward. Can’t keep looking back in the rearview mirror.”

Other than Derek Lowe and Alex Gonzalez, the rest of the team returned intact. Ross said it wasn’t surprising that there was no backstabbing or blaming teammates.

“We’re not really that kind of group,” he said. “Guys keep it in house. I think everybody just feels like we didn’t play well. We don’t play the blame game.”

Like his manager, Ross doesn’t believe there will be lingering effects from September that could adversely affect this year’s squad.

“I think time will tell when the season starts, but I don’t see this group being that kind of group,” he said. “We never panicked coming down the stretch. We just don’t worry about that kind of stuff. We know everybody goes on the field and plays as hard as they can.”

Tough dude: To hear Tim Hudson describe what he endured to keep pitching the past couple of seasons, it provides a better understanding of a couple of things:

1. How tough most aging professional athletes have to be to keep going, and 2. how much stress that ballplayers, particularly pitchers, put on bodies doing things human bodies weren’t really designed to do. Things like throwing baseballs at 90-plus miles per hour thousands of times each season, year after year after year.

Hudson had surgery Nov. 28 to fuse the L5 and S1 vertebrae in his lower back. It was done because a degenerative disc was all but gone, pulverized, which created grinding movement between the vertebrae and sometimes excruciating pain and spasms.

“It’s been like that for about two years now,” said Hudson, who went 33-19 with a 3.02 ERA in 67 starts during 2009-2010, after missed most of ‘09 season recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery.

How’d he keep pitching when he sometimes had trouble bending over to tie his shoes or even get out of bed?

“In the season you have your anti-inflammatories, your epidurals, you have your therapy constantly,” Hudson said. “It’s just something you deal with. I just thought it was part of being an older player and doing the b.s. that you have to deal with physically. But after getting [his back] fixed, I’m just at 2-1/2 months now and feeling the relief that I have just from 2-1/2 months, it feels a thousand times better.

“If I want to play two, three or four more years, I feel comfortable that I can do it.”

Now listen to him describe the fusion surgery. Just to set this up, I’ll tell you that it’s done via what they call anterior approach, in which the physician goes at the spine from the front of the patient’s body by cutting an incision inches below the belly button and then moving aside the abdominal muscles in order to reach the lower spine.

Yikes.

Hudson had hoped to at least put off back surgery until after he retired, but changed his mind after pain intensified during his early offseason workouts. That’s why the surgery wasn’t done until Nov. 28, after he’d began his offseason conditioning and realized his back was worse than ever.

“I think realistically, me getting back for the start of the season was never really a possibility” with the surgery done so late, he said. “A lot of people thought [it was a simple procedure to fix] a herniated disc. It was a fusion….

“My back feels really, really good. I’m doing stuff right now without discomfort that I probably haven’t done in probably seven or eight years [Like] putting my shoes on….

“There’s rehab and treatment that goes with it, because they went through my stomach. That can always be an issue, because they cut you open and go up through there. That’s the only thing that I’ve been really getting treatment on. They cut it right there and go in, and that heals up and scars up. Then you’ve got to make sure you’re using your stomach muscles to do everything.”

He was cleared to begin throwing until Feb. 10. Hudson was on the field playing catch Monday during the Braves’ first workout for pitchers and catchers, but isn’t expected to throw from a mound until mid-March. He’s aiming for a return around May 1.

“One thing that’s good is they don’t mess with any of your back muscles” during the surgery done from the front side, Hudson said. “So you’re not rehabbing your back, you’re just rehabbing your lower abdominal muscles.”

I asked if he was doing exercises such as stomach crunches. Even before I’d finished asking the question, I thought about it and realized it was probably a dumb one.

“My crunching days are over, because of my back,” Hudson said. “It’s plank stuff and stabilization, hips, a lot of glutes, a lot of groin [exercises]. That’s essentially what my rehab stuff is right now. Lot of hamstring stretching.

“But my back feels really, really good. I really don’t have any concerns with my back. I just want to make sure this core is going to be good. Because there’s always a chance, even without surgeries, there’s chances of stuff going on with the ab muscles, obliques, you know what I mean? Every year there’s people that tweak obliques, have hernias and groin problems … so it’s just something that you’ve got to gradually build your way up to game speed.

“It was baby steps for a long time. It gradually has done this [uses hand to demonstrate upward progress] every day. It’s a gradual thing, and it’s been steady….

“I’ve been working out now for three or four weeks in the weight room. From a strength standpoint, I’m not where I want to be. But I usually get that back pretty quick. I’m not limited at all in the weight room. Obviously I’m not doing squats and all that kind of craziness, but I haven’t done squats in eight years.

“I’m not limited at all with anything, just got to be smart. Do my rehab. I get X-rays about every four to six weeks, make sure that’s doing right.”

Hudson then described an interesting part of the back surgery performed by Dr. Steven Wray, a leading specialist.

“My disc was gone; it was essentially bone-on-bone,” Hudson said. “They gave me some room [between vertebrae] and inserted a sponge that has bone-producing proteins in it, in the sponge, and then screwed a plastic spacer over the outside of it. And in three to six months that sponge will produce a solid, fused bone in between your two vertebrae. So that’s the fusion.

“The last X-rays I took it was solid bone between there, but it was soft bone; it was like spongy bone. They said in three to six months it will be as hard as rock.”

Yes, they get paid a lot of money to play a kid’s game. But some parts of it ain’t exactly fun.

♣ Etc.

David Ross was thickly muscled before, particularly his tree-trunk legs. But this year the veteran catcher is stockier in his upper body. It was by design after he increased the intensity of his offseason weight workouts. “Last year I was trying to get skinny like everybody else,” said Ross, who hit .263 with a .428 slugging percentage, after hitting .289/.479 in ’10 and .273/.508 in .09. “I looked good, but I’d rather hit the ball in the trees.”…

Until Grapefruit League games begin, Braves daily workouts start at 10 a.m. except this Saturday-Sunday, when they’re moved back to 1 p.m. because of team physicals….

Something to keep in mind when considering the battle for the last bullpen spots: Cristhian Martinez and Jairo Asencio are the only Braves roster candidates who are out of minor-league options, meaning they’d have to clear waivers before they could be sent to the minors.

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Hanson has minor concussion, likely out a few days

11:07 am February 21, 2012, by David O'Brien

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Tommy Hanson has a Grade 1 concussion from a one-car accident he was in Monday morning, and the Braves pitcher could miss a few more days of workouts.

Grade 1 is the least serious of three grades of concussions.

“We’re going to sit him out for 48 hours and then bring him back gradually,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “He’ll be here after the 48 hours and then maybe ride the bike for a little bit [first day back]. He might not be on the field for a couple of days after that.”

Hanson, 25, wrecked his car while driving to the Braves’ spring-training headquarters before the team’s first workout Monday. The 6-foot-6 Californian told team officials he blew a tire and went off the road while rounding a curve.

It was unclear if he hit a curb or was distracted, but Braves officials said there was no reason to suspect alcohol or any other illegal substances were involved.

No other vehicles were involved and there apparently was no police involvement or incident report filed. Hanson had the car towed to a local dealership and made it to training camp in time for a 9:30 a.m. team meeting prior to the opening workout.

When he didn’t feel well after the meeting, he was examined by Braves trainers and then taken to see an Orlando specialist, who diagnosed the concussion. Hanson was back at the doctor’s office for a follow-up exam Tuesday when Gonzalez addressed the media.

Hanson was spotted in the clubhouse earlier Tuesday, but didn’t talk to reporters and left with a trainer to return to see the doctor who diagnosed the concussion Monday.

Gonzalez said that missing several workouts at the beginning of camp should not put Hanson behind other pitchers.

“I don’t think so, because he was throwing at the stadium [before spring training],” the manager said, referring to the Braves’ early pitching camp at Turner Field in the first two weeks of February. “He threw three or four times at the stadium.”

Hanson or Jair Jurrjens seems likely to start opening day in place of veteran Tim Hudson, who’s recovering from back surgery and could miss all of April.

Symptoms of Grade 1 concussions include a relatively brief period of memory loss, headaches and confusion, but not unconsciousness.

Hanson told Braves officials he didn’t remember if he hit his head in the accident. He had no other injuries, cuts or contusions, Braves officials said.

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Catching prospects catch Gonzalez’s attention

5:07 pm February 21, 2012, by David O'Brien

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — In his second Braves camp as manager, Fredi Gonzalez likes what he sees from the organization’s up-and-coming catchers.

Highly regarded prospect Christian Bethancourt, 20, and strapping Evan Gattis, 24, were among the catchers in a hitting group late in

Tuesday’s batting practice on the main field at Champion Stadium.

Listed at 6-4 and 230 pounds, Gattis won the South Atlanta League batting title at Class A Rome by batting .322 with 22 homers, 71 RBIs and a .386 OBP in just 88 games. He was older than most in A-ball because he was once out of baseball for four years, struggling with personal problems including a drug problem.

“I was joking with [roving catching instructor] Joe Breeden,” said Gonzalez, also a former minor league catcher. “I said ‘Man, we’ve finally got some guys that look like catchers.’ They’re all 6-2, 240. Gattis is a monster. And Bethancourt looks like he could put some weight on him.”

Gattis is old school at the plate, batting without gloves.

“I saw him out there doing about a hundred pull-ups the other day — without gloves,” Gonzalez said. “He’s strong.”

Diaz hopes to speed up (hands) by slimming down

Left fielder Matt Diaz took a less-is-more approach this winter, slimming down after hitting no homers and slugging .323 in 251 at-bats for Pittsburgh and Atlanta in 2011.

He had seven homers and a .428 slugging percentage in 224 at-bats for the Braves in 2010, then bulked up after signing a two-year contract with Pittsburgh in December that year. He was traded back to the Braves on Aug. 31.

“I did more power lifting and that stuff because in my mind, [Pittsburgh] is a big field and I wanted to add some more pop,” Diaz said of his strategy a year ago, when he said he followed recommendations by a since-fired Pirates strength coach.

“But it just absolutely backfired. I wasn’t free and easy with my swing. I didn’t have hand speed, which leads to power. I was strong in the weight room, but had no bat speed. It disappeared. There’s a lot more than strength to hitting, and I know that.”

He doesn’t know how much he weighs now because, he said, he stopped weighing a while back. But he does know this: “The clothes I wore in ’09 fit me.”

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McCann much more than just 'offensive catcher'

By Mark Bowman / MLB.com | 02/21/12 5:52 PM EST

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Having gained the label during his playing days with the Braves, Javy Lopez understands why Brian McCann does not appreciate being referred to as an "offensive catcher."

"It is tough because you work hard behind the plate," Lopez said. "You work hard to be a better catcher. Yet you get all of the compliments for your hitting, rather than your catching. The fact that McCann is such a great hitter prevents people from looking at how good his defense is."

There is no denying the fact that McCann's ascension into baseball's elite category has been predicated on the tremendous offensive skills he has displayed. With six All-Star selections and five Silver Slugger Awards through his first six full Major League seasons, he has obviously earned respect throughout the baseball world.

There are catchers who have better arms or more mobility behind the plate than McCann. But it's rare to find a catcher like McCann who has established himself as an elite offensive performer and strived to become a more complete threat by taking great pride in

his defensive skills

"I just try to get better every year at every single thing I do behind the plate and swinging the bat," McCann said. "The thing about baseball is you can never get content with where you are. You can always get better, and that's what you should strive for. That's what I try to do every year."

McCann leads all catchers in games played (823) and games started behind the plate (751) dating back to his first full Major League season in 2006. The statistics produced during this span validate why he is often referred to as the game's top hitting catcher.

• McCann leads the Majors with 129 homers and 186 doubles hit while in the lineup as a catcher dating back to 2006. Mike Napoli ranks second in the homer category with 94, and A.J. Pierzynski ranks second in the doubles category with 156.

• McCann ranks third with the .493 slugging percentage he has produced while in the lineup as a catcher dating back to 2006. He ranks behind Napoli (.521) and Jorge Posada (.513). Both Napoli (1,433) and Posada (1,632) had significantly fewer at-bats than McCann (2,814) while in the game as a catcher during this span.

• McCann also leads the Majors with 317 extra-base hits and 1,386 total bases while in the game as a catcher since 2006. Pierzynski ranks second in both categories with 230 and 1,194.

"There's not a whole lot of guys who can do what he does," Ross said. "That's why he's made six All-Star teams and [won] five Silver Sluggers.

It's easy to get spoiled when you see that guy play every day. But when you see his numbers every year and he's hitting 20-plus [homers]

every year at a position that is very demanding, guys can't do that. He's special."

McCann's critics point to the fact that he has thrown out just 21 percent of the opponents who have attempted to steal against him in his career, and that he was successful against just 17.5 percent of the 126 opponents who attempted to steal against him in 2011.

But some of McCann's struggles in throwing out baserunners can be blamed on pitchers like Tommy Hanson, who spent the past six weeks attempting to speed his delivery.

As for passed balls, McCann has never been charged with more than seven in a season. But many in the Braves' clubhouse believe the totality of his defensive contributions are best understood by the fact that the team's pitching staff has ranked among the National League's top five in four of the past five seasons.

"I think he's done a tremendous job with the pitching staff," Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell said. "Mac sees a lot of things both from a hitter's and catcher's standpoint. As he has learned from a hitter's standpoint, he's seeing things that can help pitchers. Maybe it's a slowdown in a delivery or a guy tipping pitches. He's right in front of it. When he's able to see that, it processes and he's able to talk to the pitcher about it. That's a big bonus because when you're on the bench, you don't see that kind of stuff."

McCann's desire to lead the pitching staff and his ability to detect potential flaws has proven beneficial to a number of the Braves pitchers.

Mike Minor knows that the great improvement he realized last year began after McCann approached him during a start against the Mets in June and informed him that he was tipping his changeup by slowing down his arm speed.

Eric O'Flaherty believes he might have already been out of baseball had he not gained the chance to work with McCann after being released by the Mariners before the 2009 season. Last year, O'Flaherty became the first pitcher in Major League history to record a sub 1.00 ERA while making at least 70 appearances in a season.

"He saved my career, definitely," O'Flaherty said. "I say that not because he's my friend or anything, but because it is legit. From the moment I started pitching for the Braves, he told me I should move to the other side of the rubber for a different angle. He just gives me real feedback. He doesn't sugarcoat anything. He's honest and he's passionate about it."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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.

“I already know where my place is on this team,” said Uggla, who had a career-low .233 average, but a career-high 36 homers and an Atlanta-record 33-game hitting streak. “I already know that everybody here respects me as a ballplayer, the way I go about my business. Now it’s not like trying to set the stage.”

that **** Purple dinosaur Barney ruined the hitting streak

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Did Uggla REALLY need to gain MORE muscle?? Especially in his already huge arms? Puzzling..

Yeah. Strange. Yeah but he said he usually slims down a bit during spring training so we'll see. Maybe he felt like he needed more muscle to feel stronger towards the end of the season. I dunno.

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Did Uggla REALLY need to gain MORE muscle?? Especially in his already huge arms? Puzzling..

It's a 162+ game grind through the hottest part of the year. You have to condition your body for it before you go through it because you can't maintain during the season. I used to put on 20 pounds during the winter because I knew I'd lose most everything by the time I was done with my Spring/Summer/Fall seasons. It sounds odd but carrying extra bulk helps with the wear and tear of game after game after game.

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Heyward 'confident' heading into new season

By Mark Bowman / MLB.com | 02/22/12 5:39 PM EST

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- As his nightmarish 2011 season neared its end, Jason Heyward could have taken advantage of an opportunity to rest his battered body and bruised psyche. Instead, he took just two weeks off before reforming his diet and dedicating himself to a strict conditioning program.

"I felt I had a disappointing year in a lot of ways," Heyward said. "Some of it was out of my control. But I wanted to make sure I took care of everything I can control."

Heyward has arrived at Spring Training looking ready to reap the fruits of his offseason labors. His determination and renewed confidence have excited Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez and other members of the organization who believe he can rebound and be a difference maker this year.

"I don't buy into my own stock," Heyward said. "Sometimes stuff looks better than it feels and sometimes stuff feels better than it looks. I'm on my way to going to the next level, feeling wise. I'm picking up some things I didn't apply before this winter and getting back to some old habits."

Not long ago, Heyward would have never envisioned going through an offseason waking up at 8 a.m. and fighting the urge to satisfy his love for steak. But as this winter proved, a .227 batting average and .389 slugging percentage can motivate a humbled 22-year-old kid, who had vaulted to the top of the baseball world one year earlier.

Heyward arrived at Spring Training last year ready to build upon a memorable rookie season that had included the honor of being voted to start the All-Star Game at just 20 years old. This year, he arrived 20 pounds leaner and determined to prove last year's struggles were a product of a shoulder ailment and not an indication that he will not live up to his tremendous expectations.

"When you go through a troubling season, what are you going to do?" Braves utility man Eric Hinske said. "You've got to try to find a way out of it. He's going to adjust. He came [to camp] in better shape and he just looks ready. It's not that he didn't last year or anything. But the second year is tough."

Hinske could relate to some of the frustrations Heyward encountered last year. After winning the 2002 American League Rookie of the Year Award, he came back one year later and hit .243 during a season marred by a broken hand.

Still, few could truly understand the pressure and frustration Heyward was feeling last year as he felt helpless for the first time on a baseball field. He had been heralded the game's top prospect two years earlier and a bona fide future superstar when he had introduced himself to the Major League scene the previous summer.

Everything seemed right for Heyward until he felt his shoulder pop during a round of batting practice last March. He played through the discomfort and ended April on a hot streak. But the pain became far too burdensome when he recorded just one hit in his first 29 at-bats of May and landed on the disabled list.

Heyward returned after playing just two rehab games in June and spent the season's final three months watching his frustrations grow. Things got worse in August when he began playing behind Jose Constanza, who had made his Major League debut on July 29 at 27 years old.

"It was tough being hurt and not playing every day," Heyward said. "I knew I just had to keep looking ahead. I knew I wasn't going to get any of those days behind me back, especially not until the offseason. That's all I could do, come to the field every day ready to work."

Determined to wipe the slate clean, Heyward and his longtime personal hitting coach C.J. Stewart began breaking down his swing in early November. The young outfielder said he had already fixed some of his bad habits before he began working with new Braves hitting coach Greg Walker and assistant hitting coach Scott Fletcher.

"C.J. and I did a lot of the groundwork for my approach to hitting again," Heyward said. "We started from scratch again to get me back to being myself and simplifying things."

Chipper Jones has lauded the work Walker and Fletcher have done with Heyward and recently said the sound coming off the powerful outfielder's bat reminds him of the sound he often heard during the 2010 season.

Along with a refined offensive approach, Heyward is also seemingly approaching this season with some of the confidence that was lost last summer.

"I was confident going in last year," Heyward said. "Unfortunately, I got injured and there was nothing I could really control. Going forward, I'm definitely confident. I feel healthy right now. I've got every reason to be confident."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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